For what is essentially a relatively small chunk of rock sticking out above sea level Bali has a lot of shit going on for it, predominantly in the form of Hindu temples. Everywhere you look there’s a temple. Strolling through a forest? There’ll be a temple. In a homestay? There’ll be a temple. If there’s not a temple there’s a shrine and whilst you can’t actually go inside the to the inner part where the worship takes place unless you’re Balinese Hindu you’re welcome to walk around the grounds of the larger, more important ones for a small fee and gawp in awe.
We rented a scooter from the shop next to Eka’s Homestay for Rp60,000 and headed off on a little tour of some of the island. It was only riding this scooter that made me realise how shit the scooter we had in Lovina was. The brakes worked properly for a start, all the dials did what dials are meant to do and we even had a fully functioning headlight. Seriously, Ubud. With this actually roadworthy bike you’re really spoiling us.
You’ll need a sarong to get into pretty much anywhere on Bali and the second you get off your scooter at any given temple you’ll be hailed by women trying to sell you one should you want one of your very own to treasure forever or at least until it falls apart in the wash. We brought our own with us and whipped them out with a slightly smug flourish when we were told we had to buy one, and they will tell you that you have to buy one, but temples generally include them in the entrance price or will hire you one for a small donation. You ain’t getting in there without one though, sunshine, regardless of gender.
I do want to buy another sarong whilst I’m here but shopping in Asia stresses me out and I’m not sure there’s enough Bintang on the island to get me through the experience. You could probably pick one up for Rp30,000 if you know how to haggle. I don’t. I hate haggling. My only haggling technique is to walk away and hope they chase me so I can look coyly over my shoulder and wait for a better price. Oh god that makes me sounds like a hooker. On a completely different note, if you happen to be in possession of a womb then you’re not meant to enter temples if it’s wringing itself out that week. Clearly no one checks but if that kind of thing matters to you then there’s your heads up.
This post will mostly be photos on account of the fact we had exactly fuck all idea what we were wrapping our eyeballs around beyond “waterfall” or “Hindu temple” given our tendency to not take a guide. Not that we’re against taking a guide, we often do, but we had so much to see today we kinda just wanted to get it seen.
So our first stop was the very nearby Elephant Cave, or Goa Gajah (Rp15,000 each). It’s UNESCO so you’re expecting big things but whilst the carving that gave it its name is pretty cool the rest of it is a little bit underwhelming. It’s an 11th century temple built for meditation and you can go inside the small cave where there’s a statue of Ganesh and some lingams which are phallic representations of Shiva. You can gawp at a bathing pool and you can walk down some steps.
I didn’t wander down the steps because they’re steps and I still hadn’t fully woken up yet but Tarrant did and met a bloke who motioned for her to wait for him to finish his prayer then chatted to her for a few minutes and blessed her. We learned later that he usually then asks for money but Tarrant made it back up the steps with the contents of her wallet intact. We didn’t spend long here to be honest, we had a lot to see today and there’s only so long you can gawp at a carving that may or may not be an elephant.
Pura Kehen is another 11th century jobby but is infinitely more awesome than Goa Gajah. This thing has got towering an eleven tiered meru which I believe is some manner of shrine. You’ve got to wear a waist sash as well as a sarong here which is included in the entrance fee, as is the sarong if you don’t already have one. There’s also a fuck off massive banyan tree you can stare at and marvel for a few minutes.
Air terjun Tukad Cepung, probably one of my favourite places on Bali so far. Guys. Look at it. Just look at it. We’d rocked up, paid our entrance fee and started the descent down the steps to the waterfall, because waterfalls are always down some fucking steps. There were a couple of points where we had to choose a path but there was an Indonesian guy in front of us that pointed us the right way. You clamber down some muddy steps whilst clinging onto a bamboo handrail in a dubious state of repair, and do you ever get the feeling you’re being lead to a secluded location to have your organs harvested?
We reached some rocks, squeezed through them and after I’d picked my jaw up out of the little stream and dried it off I shuffled in for a closer look. It’s magical, and that’s not a word I throw around lightly, it’s a word I reserve for a particularly delicious piece of cheesecake, or a waterfall in a cave visited at the exact time of day when the sun’s rays shine through to illuminate it. We’d had the foresight to bring takeaway food from the van lady so we unwrapped the bamboo leaves and ate it there.
Pura Besakih is one of the places that we did kind of wish we’d taken a guide for because it’s bastard huge and it would have been nice to have some inkling of what we were gawping at. As it stands I can tell you there are a lot of merus and a metric fuck tonne of steps because every day is a leg day in Indonesia. I did manage to glean from someone else’s guide that they have a huge ceremony once a lunar year to celebrate the anniversary of the temple, and there was something about the red, yellow and black flags meaning something but I’m afraid that’s all you’re getting from me.
Mount Batur is a volcano with three craters which is just showing off a bit. A lot of people walk up it for sunrise but that sounds like a lot of effort and I think I’ve had enough of walking up hills for sunrise for a little while. There’s a layby on the way up from the south where they want to you pay to park for a view, or you can just carry on into the town, park your scooter and grab a cup of tea at a little warung there which has a balcony with perfect, unmarred views right to the cone and the immense caldera it sits in. You can see a huge, unhealed swathe of black lava in front of it, a testimony to its destructive power, it’s absolutely amazing.
We wanted to see Pura Ulun Danu Batur next and after riding up and down the same road several times as the maps either lied to us or we were being blinder than a bloke with knives in his eyes, we pulled up and asked some women how to find it. They beckoned us over as we put our sarongs on, they charged us Rp15,000 each for entry, tied a sash around our waists aaaaand then demanded Rp50,000 each. You fucking what? I’m fine to wear the sash, I’m even okay to rent one if that’s the done thing, but how bloody much??
I looked at the ticket. It wasn’t even the right temple. They’d well and truly taken us for a ride. Typical Bali. We said we didn’t want to go in the temple and we wanted our money back. They dropped the price for the sash further and further but we didn’t even want to see this bastard temple. Eventually they relented and told us to just in. Fine. Whatever. We skulked around the temple, it was so eerily quiet, it felt very much like we weren’t even meant to be there. We took a few photos and bailed.
We did actually find Pura Ulun Danu Batur, more by luck that judgement. It was right next door. But we were directed over the road where we were to pay our entrance fee and the bloke told us that included a welcome drink and pointed the way into a building as women descended on us with sashes. But but but…the temple is over the road. We don’t want a welcome drink. We just want to look at the fucking temple. Before we knew it the sashes were round our waists and ridiculous quantities of money was being asked for again.
I sighed and just took the sash off and handed it back, unwilling to argue. We headed back to the desk to ask for a refund but he just waved us off and told us to go to the temple without the sash. Nice try at a scam there, guys. Nice try. The temple wasn’t even worth the effort, it’s apparently a water temple but we couldn’t find the water so after walking around in circles for a while and sweating a lot we gave up and left.
Tegallalang rice terraces. We pulled into a viewpoint and we hadn’t even turned the engine off and we were surrounded by people selling postcards and fuck knows what else. I know it’s how they make a living and I’m fully aware that I need to be more tolerant but it’s exhausting. I think I was quite tired anyway after a long day of driving and I’m not good with being surrounded by people when I’m tired or hungry or breathing. The light was getting bad too so we just snapped a couple of photos and left.
As for our last stop, Gunung Kawi, I’m still trying to decide if it was worth the thousands of fucking steps you have to get down, and subsequently up, to gawp at it. I think it’s being considered for UNESCO, it’s basically candis, shrines, carved into rocks which is admittedly impressive, even to a cold, cynical bitch such as myself. It must have taken a lot of work and the skill involved is obvious. It’s an 11th century thing and I think it’s some manner of funeral complex.
I prefer it to the Elephant Temple, mind, despite the lung shredding steps. Ah fuck, the steps. We had to get back up those buggers and do you know how hard it is to fend off the vendors that line the only way out when you’ve got no air left in your lungs? I don’t want to buy a fucking sarong, please accept my pained gasping as a definite no.
Ubud & Around, Bali, Indonesia
Stayed at: Eka’s Homestay, Ubud